Martha Stewart has become the oldest person featured on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. This is just the most recent effort on the part of editor MJ Day to make the Swimsuit Issue more inclusive.

Martha Stewart is back in the headlines, this time for landing the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. At 81 years old, Martha Stewart is the oldest person to be featured on the cover by several decades.

Stewart may at first glance appear to be an odd choice for Sports Illustrated – after all, the Swimsuit Edition typically features models and athletes. Stewart is the face and mind behind one of the most successful lifestyle brands in the world. Then, of course, there’s her advanced age.

But featuring Stewart on the cover is just one of many choices made by Swimsuit Issue editor MJ Day to make the magazine more inclusive – and to expand the popular definition of beautiful.

Martha Steward on the cover of Sports Illustrated

Martha Stewart holding up a dessert and smiling.
@marthastewart/Instagram

When you put it that way, Martha Stewart is suddenly an obvious choice for the Swimsuit Issue. She’s found success as a TV personality, businesswoman, and author, and reaches 100 million fans every month through Martha Stewart Living Omnemedia. She’s massively popular, which will only bring in more potential readers.

Stewart also has previous modeling experience. To pay for her education at Columbia University in the late 1950s, she worked as a professional model for Chanel. Since then she’s posed for countless photos for her magazines, books, and promotional materials. She also shares selfies and staged photos of herself with her four million Instagram followers.

Stewart chose to shoot the cover, in part, to help change the conversation about older women. Oftentimes, women are overlooked by society after they reach a certain age and are no longer deemed desirable. It’s a horrible thing to consider, but it does happen more often than we’d like to think. This hasn’t been an issue for Stewart, though, who has continued to work into her eighties and remains a wildly popular lifestyle personality.

“Usually I’m motivated by pay,” Stewart said in a behind-the-scenes video released by Sports Illustrated. “But this time, I was motivated by showing people that a woman my age can still look good, feel good, be good.”

“I want other women, especially women to feel that they could also be on the cover of Sports Illustrated,” Stewart continued. “I don’t think about age very much, but I thought that this is kind of historic.”

The Story of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue

The first Swimsuit Issue of Sports Illustrated came out in 1964. It was originally published in February, which is a slow month for sports reporting. Then editor Andre Laguerre came up with the idea of a swimsuit issue to help fill space in the magazine during the slower winter months.

Laguerre assigned Jule Campbell with the task of travelling to a tropical locale and shooting a model in swimwear. Babette March was the first model to appear on the cover, as well as in a five-page layout in the magazine.

Campbell was a fashion reporter who got her start at Glamour and quickly became the editor of the Swimsuit Issue. She opted for “bigger and healthier” models and included the models’ names alongside their photos. The Swimsuit Issue quickly became a coveted job in the modeling world, and a media sensation in its own right.

Throughout the decades, it has become a supermodel rite of passage to land a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover. Models like Cheryl Tiegs, Pauline Porizkova, and Heidi Klum have all been photographed on the cover, with models like Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell being featured in layouts in the magazine. Tyra Banks made history in 1997 when she became the first Black woman featured on the cover.

RELATED: Martha Stewart’s Unlikely Best Friend Snoop Dogg Broke All The Rules

In recent years, athletes have also been selected for the Swimsuit Issue, starting with German tennis player Steffi Graff in 1997. Since then athletes like Serena Williams, Anna Kournikova, and Amanda Beard have all been featured in the magazine. UFC fighter Ronda Roussey became the first athlete on the cover in 2016.

From the start, the Swimsuit Issue had its share of detractors. Babette March in the first Swimsuit Issue wore a white bikini that looks quite modest by today’s standards but was quite risqué for the time. The 1978 cover, which featured Cheryl Tiegs in a fishnet bathing suit, prompted the most subscription cancellations of any issue of Sports Illustrated.

The entire concept of the Swimsuit Issue has also been criticized. Sports fans have expressed that the Swimsuit Issue doesn’t have a place in a serious sports publication. Since 2007, subscribers have had the option to skip the Swimsuit Issue.

Many feminist groups have also posited that the Swimsuit Issue objectifies its subjects and contributed to the commodification of women’s bodies for male consumption. The Swimsuit Issue also retouches its photographs, which many believe promotes unrealistic beauty standards.

An inclusive view of beauty in Sports Illustrated

Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg hugging
Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party/ IMDB

Swimsuit Issue editor MJ Day got her start at Sports Illustrated over twenty years ago sorting bikinis and has worked her way up the ranks. Since she’s taken over the Swimsuit Issue, she’s been working to make the magazine more inclusive – and possibly more woke.

The 2018 edition of the Swimsuit Issue, produced by an all-female crew, placed the #MeToo movement at the forefront of issue. This choice received backlash by many, who thought the magazine was exploiting the movement for profit.

Whether you love the Swimsuit Issue or hate it, there’s no denying that, under Day’s leadership, there has been more diversity in its cover models. According to Day, 2023’s cover models were chosen in part for their outspoken strength.

“While the industry wavers on its arbitrary notion of beauty, our issue has stayed the course, showcasing the women of today, the women shaping the future,” Day said in a recent statement. “This year, we’re featuring an extremely diverse group of women starting with our cover models, who are collectively the most unapologetic women from different walks of life who continue to forge their own paths on their own terms.”